Tyred of the current state of F1?


Motorsports' answer to Eric the Eel
There has been much discussion recently regarding the impact that the Pirelli tyres are having on the current state of Formula 1. Terms such as the ‘F1 Lottery’ are becoming more and more abundant, and many fans are seeing the current situation as an overall decline in the spectacle of the sport. Couple this with the polarising opinions regarding the DRS system and we are fast approaching an abyss with fans either side extolling either the virtue or decline of F1 in the 2012 season.
Such a difference of opinion in many experienced and knowledgeable fans leads me to cast my mind back to the times when I first started watching, what many people consider to be the highest level of motorsport. On what side of this fast approaching divide do I actually sit?

My story starts towards the end of the Senna/Prost battles that where the mainstay of the early 1990’s. What many people consider being the golden turbo age of Forumla 1 in the 1980’s was approaching its twilight years, with the computer assisted driving aides becoming more and more prevalent as we fast approached the end of the century.
This was the time of multiple tyre manufactures and multiple compounds, with Pirelli, Avon, Goodyear and Michelin all producing tyres at various points throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Unsurprising many races were determined by tyre management, with conservation and outright attack all winning strategies at various points. In essence it was a balancing act. Unsurprisingly very similar to what we are seeing today.

For me, the true decline of this era started in 1998. With computer technologies such as traction control and reactive suspension common place, and the shear speed of F1 cars fast approaching the limit to which drivers could physically survive the FIA stepped in to curtail the cornering speeds of the cars. In an effort to reduce mechanical grip levels the grooved tyre was first introduced.
In order to maintain the grooves, tyre manufacturers had to make harder compounds, which in turn resulted in a more consistent and long living type of rubber. We lost Goodyear, who has been manufacturing tyres since 1959 and entered the Bridgestone era. Despite the loss in mechanical grip levels, the engineers began to claw back lap time in the only way they were able to; and that of course was through ever increasing levels of aerodynamic down force.
Greater levels of down force, harder and more consistence tyres coupled with refuelling that had been allowable since 1993 all had the effect of reducing the spectacle of the sport. No longer were pit stops necessary to change rubber – it was all about the fuel effect, pit stops were completed at optimum point in the race for this and this alone, with a fresh pair of boots being put on almost as an after thought.
The result? Well any fan of more than a few years can tell you the answer to that. Races that were split into several short sprints, with overtaking all but extinct outside of the pit lane and a slow trickle of fans leaving the sport that soon turned out to be a flood.

When I hear calls for a reintroduction of refuelling, more consistent tyres and races that are sprints I think back to those times….

Would I want this? For me personally, the answer is a comprehensive no.
MajorDanby... A few points of order....

Prost/Senna battles were (mostly) late 80s...
The reactive suspension/traction control were banned in 1994 - However, you're absolutely right that the grooves were introduced due to the escalating tyre war! Were we to see a return to the tyre wars of the late 80s and 90s, I would need to see a removal of the aero efficiency that has pervaded the sport! However, the reason aero was not so efficient is that it was difficult to model - which with current computing power is not a problem... Sadly, in being able to model our world, it will damage our sport!
The late 80's/early 90's just didn't seem to have the same ring to it mate, damn me trying to be concise. I should probably also point out that Turbos were pretty much banned by 1989 before someone else does lol ;)

I don't think we will every see a return to the tyres wars we had in that era, and I don't think I would want to (I am sure I wrote a post about that a long time ago now. Its probably in the archives somewhere).

The main point of this article is trying to point out that the wear rates we are seeing today with the Pirelli's are nothing new. Many articles I have read recently are bad mouthing the Pirellis and personally I feel this is wrong, i don't want to see a return to tyres that are so resilient that strategy is taken out of the equation.
I like F1 2012. I also have no problem with DRS (assuming it is in the right place and the zone is the correct length). People were complaining about the tyres (although to lesser extent) last year but things calmed down as teams got a handle on the tyres. The fact that only drivers from the top 4 teams have won races is an indication that the tyres don't create a lottery, fast car (and driver) equals winning a race.

Tyre startegy has always had a role in F1, it's just it's now more important during the Pirelli era than it was during the Bridgestone phase. Part of the reason why some people think this year is a lottery is because the the cars are so close, no doubt this has been aided by the lack of EBDs. Due to the cars being so close it means that it's more likely that certain cars will suit different circuits, you won't get a car that's brillirant around both Catalunya and Monaco as we saw and therefore we will see different drivers and different cars winning at different circuits.

People are too quick to forget some of the races during the Bridgestone era. I suggest anyone who feels that there's too much unpredictability in F1 nowadays should go back and watch races like the 2008 Chinese GP or the 2009 European GP, then you'll see what excitement those tyres produced :sleeping:.
It's a great article, thanks for posting it. Tyre wars are great if you don't get too few manufacturers with a bias to particular teams, as some feel was the case with Ferrari in the Schumacher heyday. I consider the current situation to be of benefit to car development because of the variables that it throws in, well done Pirelli for that, I also see it as a detriment to the sport as it appears to throw in an element of randomness that might ruin a favoured driver's performance. I'm generally in favour of freeing up as many development parameters as possible, so an "anything goes" on tyres might encourage other tyre manufacturers to insist on inclusion, Pirelli are doing a great job of making tyre selection matter but the problem is that no-one can say they make great tyres because of what they're producing for Formula 1.
MajorDanby.Firstly good to see you again and thanks for great article.Your thoughts and opinions pretty much coincide with mine.
Incidently this is Kimi Raikkonens opinion on Pirelli tyres.
http://www.formula1.com/news/interviews/2012/6/13442.html Q: We hear words like ‘lottery’ in relation to the tyres, but never ‘full throttle’. Are we on the way to the casino or still on the track?
No, that’s bull. There is nothing wrong with the tyres. You just have to get them working and try to make them last the whole race. (laughs) That is sometimes a bit tricky, but no rocket science.
Glad to see ya back MajorDanby!

There's no doubt that tire strategies have previously played a big part in Formula One's past, but Pirelli have well and truly taken it to another level.

Tire degradation has always been part of racing, but has there ever been such a massive drop-off in performance in such a short amount of time? I didn't agree much with Jacques Villeneuve this weekend, but on this aspect I kind of agreed with him. In the past there was a window of several laps where a driver could manage the drop-off and plan the stop accordingly. Nowadays there is maybe a lap or two where a driver needs to make the decision, or risk compromising their race entirely.

The vaunted "cliff" has never been more prevalent, and there is certainly an argument for and against such a dramatic experience in the top form of motorsport.

I completely agree with your general premise though. F1 is unbelievably entertaining right now and I do not long for some of the processional races of the past.
sportsman, Keke, nice to speak to you both again - and thanks :)

To try and answer your point regarding drop off Keke, I've copied the following from Mr. James Allens website. (http://www.jamesallenonf1.com [avoiding breaking copyright ;)])

I agree that the drop off is quite severe, but I am not sure that I agree with the idea that there are few warning signs about when it is going to occur.

If we look at Alonso's line there is a gradual plateu from roughly lap 57, then between laps 61-63 his lap time is constant. This is then followed by quite a severe increase in laptime.

Conversly, if we look at Vettels line, we see the same pattern. The obvious difference is that immediately after experiencing the plateu Vettel pits - thus mitigating the severe drop off that Alonso experienced. If you then compare this to Massa's line, you can see almost exactly the same pattern playing out for him. Importantly though, 10 or so laps prior.

My final point would be that in the race around lap 47 (at least, due to the lag in transmission times) we heard Hamilton on the radio saying he was loosing his rear tyres, this cumulated in him pitting on lap 50. However, we can see absolutely no reduction in his lap times.

I think this shows that the drivers can tell at least 3 laps before you see any significant drop off that they are starting loose their tyres. This is then further backed up by the data - If a driver is not able to improve on his times, the tyres are close to the end of their life.

I agree that once drop off occurs it is very severe. However, I think there is enough information available to understand when that point will be and to avoid it if you are sensible.

You make some good points MD. I guess it's just when teams/drivers make the wrong call and then get caught out there with their pants down it makes these tires look somewhat farcical. And you can't really blame Pirelli for that, as that's precisely how they're designed.

Kimi's experience earlier this year will forever stick in my mind. Never in the history of F1 (I believe :dunno:) has someone dropped so many places in a single lap without having a serious car problem and or off track excursion. One more lap in Canada and Fernando would have dropped from 1st to 9th in the final 7 circulations. I can see how team engineers would be frustrated by these occurrences.
I did wonder about whether the cliff had been more sudden this year after Jacques' comments but the data does not show it.


The xy plot (3rd chart down in that post by tooncheese) shows how Alonso's tyres went gradually further and further off the scale. It wasn't a cliff where he was all right one minute and 3 secs slower the next, it was a slipperly slope where he got slower by 0.2s or so per lap for 15 laps. There was more than enough data to show that the tyres were not going to last, perhaps as long as 14 laps from the end as Gary Anderson stated in the BBC highlights show and online here http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/18427377

Nowadays there is maybe a lap or two where a driver needs to make the decision, or risk compromising their race entirely.

I don't think this is quite right, Keke. If you say "there is maybe a lap or two where a driver needs to make the optimum decision", I might agree, but the fact that Vettel went to lap 64 (14 laps after Lewis and at least 6 laps after Alonso's team should have known that they were wrong), says that this wasn't a mistake getting it wrong by one or two laps.

Vettel pitted and overtook Fernando to finish 4th, his race was race compromised by just two places in those 14 laps showing me that Ferrari were simply frozen like a rabbit in the headlights of a failed strategy. Alonso got it wrong by binning his options too early when they were actually getting faster when he stopped.

On the subject of the OP, I love the tyre effect and not just because it allows us to draw nice lines ;)

The worst races from an entertainment point of view last year were all the races with very low tyre deg (India and Italy especially for me). The rules are the same for everyone and finding the best solution to maximise the resource is a key part of the technical challenge.

Sunday would have been dull as dishwater without the tyres allowing for a range of approaches.
If you say "there is maybe a lap or two where a driver needs to make the optimum decision", I might agree, but the fact that Vettel went to lap 64 (14 laps after Lewis and at least 6 laps after Alonso's team should have known that they were wrong), says that this wasn't a mistake getting it wrong by one or two laps.

Yeah, I was sort of referring to optimal strategy. And damn me for even acknowledging JV, who claimed that guys only had "half a lap" before hitting the cliff.

There was definitely a 1-2 lap window where if Alonso had pitted, he would have been right with Hamilton for the rest of the race. He might have even come out ahead of Lewis after his 5 second stop. After that window was closed, the race win was already out of the picture.
Massa's lap-times after he pitted on lap 58 (I think?) were consistently a full second quicker than Alonso's to begin with and 2-3 seconds per lap quicker than him in the last 8 laps, so Ferrari really should have known better.
The three best drivers are in the top three, and one of them will most likely come out on top come season end. Induvidual race wins are always down to circumstance.
The problem I see with the tyres is not that they don't last or that drop off suddenly these things can be allowed for no the big problem is their window of operation it seems that if the car set up is correct compared to track conditions track surface type and track temp then they will work and last fine but if the car is a tiny bit out then they don't work at all and it is this that makes the races just a matter of pure chance and is why we have had seven winners in seven races.

Basically races are won or lost on the role of a dice and shouldn't be decided like that there just isn't any skill in it any more and there is certainly no sport involved unless you count car set up a sport and thrilling to watch.

Formula one has been dumbed down to a non sport these days first by the ridiculous DRS and now by the ridiculous tyres and it is for these reasons people will stop watching, when I bring the subject of formula one up in my local the majority of people don't even count it as sport at all.

I just hope the teams and the FIA come to their senses and put it right before it is too late..
My principle objection to the current state of affairs is that the fast-disintegrating Pirellis (and CURSE, and DRS) are offered as remedy to problems that are the direct result of still other FIA rules. Except two wrongs don't make a right.

The first major problem -- the chief reason the average overtakes per race fell to fewer than 20 for a decade and a half -- is that the cars derive a disproportionate level of their cornering grip from wing-generated downforce, which is too adversely affected by turbulent air. Rather than relieving that problem, the Pirellis exacerbate it by the sheer volume of debris they loose on the circuit, most of which accumulates off the racing line, particularly in the key braking zones. So if a driver elects to leave the racing line to execute an overtake, he finds himself in the marbles, except the marbles now are golf balls. Or billiard balls.

The other major problem is that the cars are too alike. Their performance is too similar. All else being equal, reducing performance differential directly results in reduced overtaking. The cars are too alike because the TR have become ridiculously restrictive, too limiting to the areas of the car where innovation is permitted.

Almost anything that passes for innovation these days (by FIA design) must necessarily fall into some grey area of the TR, and it's heads or tails whether the FIA will ban it. So all that remains is to steal execution from the cars that are faster than yours, which results in still more convergence of performance.

And that is a problem the fast-disintegrating Pirellis further compound because they will not permit a car to be driven at its limit. Which reduces the advantage inherent in the faster car (and driver), which causes a still further convergence of performance.

So instead of nursing the sport by putting sticking plasters on injuries that they themselves itself inflicted, why don't the FIA altogether heal it by addressing the rules that were the original cause of those injuries? Or does that come too close to an admission that they might have erred?

If all the gimmickry produces more exciting racing, it's still just bread and circuses because it has been overtaking created artificially and without regard for its impact on competition. Motor racing might be an entertainment business but it is a business underpinned by sport. Even before it became a business, before there were paying spectators or sponsors, men were drawn to the sporting aspect out of pure competitive drive. Even if the sport were outlawed, even after all the fossil fuels are long gone, there still will be men racing their cars, somewhere, purely for the joy of it. And any change that proposes to throw over competition in favour of entertainment flies in the face of the nature of sport. It just isn't cricket.

Looking forward to the 2014 engine formula doesn't improve the picture because the turbo V-6 is even more highly regimented than the current NA V-8s, right down to precisely limiting how many joules are accessible through the driver's right foot over the duration of the race. And as for the turbocharger itself, General Motors fitted a device of the same specification (single stage with fixed impeller vanes) to the 1962 Oldsmobile Turbo Jetfire. So the next big advance in F1 will be a technology available on American production cars half a century ago. Huzzah!

And will someone please explain to me how giving the driver the ability to start his own car, or requiring him to drive through the pits on electric power, either raises the level of competition or enahnces the sport's entertainment value?

Maybe this was a forseeable consequence. Maybe the sport was fated from birth to one day collapse under its own weight. As a sport, it flourished best when it evolved naturally, with limited external influence, governed mostly by what technologies (and funding) were available to the teams and vetted by what worked best on the track. Unfortunately, as we saw in the 1960s, that doesn't always lead the sport in the most propitious direction. The FIA have tried to steer the sport on a sustainable course but that steering necessarily had to interfere with the sport's natural evolutionary tendencies. We can argue how successful they were in their efforts but I think the sport without question has been mutated into a grotesque and unnatural form that bears scant resemblance to its forbears, and long since has abandoned the principle of Survival of the Fastest.
The answer of course is so simple I just don't understand why the FIA can't see it
  1. Reduce down force significantly.
  2. Increase Mechanical grip by the same amount.
  3. Bring back engine development which in turn will bring back manufactures such as Honda, Yamaha, BMW and the rest.
  4. Get rid of DRS and these bloody stupid tyres.
It ain't rocket science is it they could even through alternative fuels into the mix such as bio, diesel and hydrogen or even methanol other race series do this after all F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle the trail blazers isn't it as it stands now it is positively archaic. I mean come on Kers has been around for donkey's years....
The thing is, I don't necessarily agree that these tyres have such a narrow working range - certainly no more narrow than the 2011 specification tyres.

I think the working range of the tyres is being artifically exaggereated by the close performance of the various teams. It stands to reason that if aerodynamically your car is very close to that of your competitors then any shortfalls in getting the tyres to work is going to be highlighted.

Last year with the EBD, what was happening with tyres simply didn't matter as much. That was the first aspect you needed to get right.

I do agree that the major downfall of these tyres is the marbles that get built up off line, making passing that much more difficult.

Blog I undertand your point, but what would happen if the engine regs were relaxed? What would happen if the restrictions were taken off the technical regs? We would once again end up in a situation where the cars were too fast to safely drive.

The other major problem is that the cars are too alike. Their performance is too similar.All else being equal, reducing performance differential directly results in reduced overtaking.

I am guessing that by this statement you are an advocate of cars with huge performance differntials, such as the RedBull dominated era, and Ferrari dominated era?
If we had some of the performance differentials seen in years past - but with todays reliability we would be in for a season of bordom

I suppose we could remove all aerodynamics - but surely then we would be watching a glorified version of nascar without any scope for develpment?
The rules make the sport a lot better in my opinion
The tyres make the races more exciting and we can now see strategies of conserving tyres vs. extra stopping but putting in very fast laps to make up for it
DRS has made passing possible and while sometimes it has been too easy, it is only in its 2nd year and refinement will come with the years. Think to pre 2011 when people could spend whole races behind the one driver.
Maybe instead of the normal DRS zone we could have the same thing as KERS whereby the driver if he is 1 second behind the guy in front has the choice of deploying his DRS for a certain length of time over a lap, the time limit for DRS usage could then be reset as the driver crosses the line, providing he is still within 1 second
KERS is just useful to have as it adds the a little element of driver strategy into a world of pit wall strategy
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